Kessel reaffirms desire to stay with Leafs
Leafs winger Phil Kessel. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)
Readying to play his team’s greatest rival and three days before the NHL trade deadline that carries so much intrigue about him, Phil Kessel re-affirmed he wants to stay in Toronto.
“I signed eight years here, I want to be here,” Kessel said Saturday morning at the Bell Centre. “We’ll see what happens. I don’t really know what’s going on (with management’s end game of re-shaping the team and four Leafs dealt already). You guys look into that more than I do. You get traded, you get traded, but I love Toronto.”
He and Leaf management might be on diverging paths as far as his future goes, but it’s unlikely anything happens with Kessel before Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline. Moves with big ticket players are usually reserved for the summer when more teams would be interested. Kessel indicated there have been no preliminary talks with general manager Dave Nonis about adding or subtracting to a list of eight teams he can submit that he will approve a trade to.
Kessel’s shoulder shrug the last time the question about the remaining years on his Toronto deal was brought up led to a great deal of speculation about his desire to stay and he didn’t help matters by going a couple of weeks without speaking to the media.
But his two goals in the past four games, a two-point outing Thursday and back-to-back wins for the first time since before Christmas eased tensions a bit.
Interim coach Peter Horachek has kept Kessel with favourite centre Tyler Bozak and left winger James van Riemsdyk, both not immune to the trade chatter themselves, and the trio has looked a little more determined of late. Including the last visit to Montreal on Valentine’s Day, the Leafs have been involved in seven straight one-goal games.
“I think everybody is responding,” Horachek said. “The fourth line with Zach Sill and that whole group (Peter Holland and Brandon Kozun) played well without a lot of minutes. I’m hopeful of giving them more minutes tonight.
“Last time here (a 2-1 shootout loss), the guys were ready to play. We’d talked about the energy of a Saturday night in Montreal and that there’s no better place to come in and play our best.”
Getting Kessel to score or get an assist - he leads the Leafs with 41 points in 47 games against the Habs - will be essential to keeping Saturday’s game close against hot goalie and MVP candidate Carey Price and a well-balanced Montreal team.
“I’ve still been cold a long time,” Kessel said of his production virtually shutting down after Dec. 16. “I’ve never been that cold, so I want to keep going.”
Meanwhile, the trade talk keeps swirling with Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik and David Clarkson gone. Olli Jokinen, Joffrey Lupul and Roman Polak are other Leafs who could be in play before the bell rings Monday afternoon.
“All these guys who are traded are good friends,” Kessel said. “David was a great guy, but anyone can be traded here. You never know.”
Jonathan Bernier, who made 47 stops on Thursday against the Flyers, is back in for the Leafs, with James Reimer likely playing Sunday in Washington. Leaf defenceman Stephane Robidas missed Saturday’s skate to be with his family in the Montreal area, while Horachek said centre Trevor Smith’s lower body injury could be improved enough to allow him to play on Sunday.